Portadown are the early pacesetters in Kukri Qualifying Division One following an impressive victory at at Coleraine on Saturday.
The previous weekend, both sides had opened their league campaigns with bonus point successes, and it was the Bannsiders who had grabbed the headlines with a win at Fivemiletown.
However, this week’s visitors arrived with plenty of self confidence and having survived a testing 10 minutes at the start of the game, went on to claim another bonus point due in no small measure to the set piece dominance achieved by a strong forward unit in which the influence of former senior players, Stuart Lamb and Gareth McCloy was plain to see.
The home side kicked off, playing towards the Town End and showing plenty of energy, dominated initially with skipper Kenny Calladine, David Andrews and Johnny Henderson all featuring strongly. Calladine just failed to make the try line after a clever feed by Andrews and it was no surprise when Andrews nudged his side ahead, courtesy of a 27metre penalty, in the 7th minute.
Coleraine continued to threaten with ball in hand but a well organised Portadown defence held firm and having earlier gained a vital upper hand in the scrums the Chambers Park forwards began to put pressure on the home lineout.
A steal on halfway, in the 18th minute, resulted in hooker Allister bursting clear and when he found Lamb in support a try looked likely but superb work at the breakdown earned the home XV a penalty.
The reprieve was, however, only temporary, the County Armagh boys outmuscling their opponents in the close exchanges and scorning several penalty kicks at goal, instead preferring the lineout option.
They were rewarded, after 23 minutes when after a series of mauls close to the Coleraine line, McCloy, lurking close to the left hand touchline, took a short pass and dived over for the game’s opening try. Whitten’s excellent conversion brought the score to 3-7.
Little was being seen of the home three-quarters at this stage with front foot possession at a premium but half backs Andrews and Paul Roxborough worked hard to manufacture something and when Andrews broke, Paul Brown did well to carry play deep into the Portadown 22, before the hooker was penalised for holding on.
With half an hour gone the visitors scored again through McCloy, this time a forward drive following a lineout on halfway, led to the ball being moved, first right and then left and the back-row forward cantering over before touching down and Whitten adding the extras to make it 3-14.
The home team responded positively, prompted by the aggressive counter attacking of Alex Gourley and sharp handling by Dean Rankin released Niall Irwin, the left wing outpacing his opposite number but being nailed by the cover just a couple of metres short. Once again, however, the close support was ineffective and the visitors were awarded a penalty.
Minutes later, Irwin saved his side from shipping a third try, timing his heavy tackle perfectly to thwart a two man overlap with the goal line beckoning and shortly after, the half-time whistle blew.
On the restart, Coleraine once more exerted pressure on the visitors, retaining possession through several phases, but could find no way through a tight defence and a 50th minute penalty from the left touchline, by Andrews, was the only reward.
Five minutes later, Portadown’s lineout superiority told again, clean possession outside the home 22, kick starting a driving maul and eventually lock forward Hardy, accompanied by three colleagues crashed over for an unconverted try to make it 6-19.
The plight of the home team was not improved when Roxborough injured himself in making a tackle in the 60th minute and had to leave the field with Rankin departing, also injured, 10 minutes later but the Bannsiders were thrown a lifeline when, with Portadown attacking, Irwin picked off a pass inside his own 22 and raced away for a try, converted by Andrews.
Having witnessed their side stage a last gasp recovery to snatch a victory, last week, the Coleraine supporters dared to hope but a rash challenge conceded a needless penalty and Whitten’s simple kick stretched the lead once more to 13-22.
The visitors then added the icing to their cake in the dying seconds securing a valuable bonus point with another try, again the product of good quality lineout possession. Hooker Allister was the beneficiary on this occasion and Whitten’s subsequent conversion left a deflated home side with work to do this week.
This weekend the focus moves to the Junior Cup and Coleraine play away to Malone Seconds.
Coleraine First XV: Gourley. A, Henderson.J, Cochrane.B, Rankin.D, Irwin.N, Andrews.D, Roxborough.P, Stirling.A, Hunter.M, Brown.P, Ramage.D, Christie.J, Douglas.S, Calladine.K, Cromie.J. Subs: Teacy A.(for Brown ), O’Hara P. (for Rankin).